An introduction to the tactics used in successful B2B PR campaigns.
Your PR machine will use certain tools to get your company known to the media and keep on their radar. No two organisations are identical, which means there is huge variation in PR methodology. However, I feel there is a need to provide some sort of practical outline of how good coverage is achieved, purely because so many books on the subject talk at the "strategic level", which, while useful for background information, is bloody annoying if you're trying to figure out what to do next!
This means working out who it is exactly that the organisation is trying to speak to. If your company sells accounting software to small businesses, then your PR team will need to figure out what magazines decision makers in SMEs read, what radio programmes they listen to, and what news sites and social networks they visit. Or if your product helps babies develop cognitive reasoning skills then they will need to establish what mums are reading. There are various ways of doing this, from expensive databases (such as Gorkhana and Mediadisk, which will be reviewed shortly on this blog), to Googling, or simply asking a few of your existing clients.
Once they have your media list, the next thing is to read / watch / listen to them. Here they will be looking out for opportunities to get involved. What type of news and stories do these publications run? Do they take article contributions, and from whom? Who writes the features? Do they use profiles or case studies? Which of your competitors are involved and how so? Is there an opportunity to phone in / write letters?
Key spokespeople will need to be introduced to the journalists, bloggers and broadcasters identified above. This could be through lunch meetings, conference calls, inviting them to events, or simply going to their offices to meet them for a coffee.
Setting up these meetings requires a bit of thought. While your MD might think asking his PA to call a journalist to arrange a lunch is acceptable, the reality is that this type of arrogance does not go down well with most journalists (unless your MD is really - and I mean genuinely and by consensus - important). Think about what kind of information a journalist might want from you, how they could benefit from meeting you and then call them for a polite chat. It is perfectly acceptable to ring a journalist or blogger and ask what types of stories they are interested in, so you can find a way to provide targeted information. That might be research, case studies, new perspectives or comments. If you know what they're after and take care to deliver it, you're likely to get a result
This can be done in the form of letters, online comment, or phone-in opportunities. A good PR team will scour the news, blogs and social networks daily to look for issues that your company can respond to. Continuing my previous example, if there is an article about the amount of organisational data that is compromised by accountants, you would write to the editor or the journalist saying that if more organisations adopted technology this would not be a problem. Or, if a royal wedding was announced, our fictional author / blogger, would start writing to the papers, commenting on the articles online and calling in to chat shows to complain about the cost to the public purse. The MD of the company that produces our baby product might wish to respond to articles on school leavers' lack of practical skills, saying this type of training has to start at a very young age.
This might sound like a PR pro covering her tracks, but even if your letters do not get published, they are still valuable as they reinforce that constant goal of staying on the journalist's radar. We once submitted a letter to the FT on behalf of a client. While the letter wasn't published, an excerpt appeared in an article the following day.
Many publications produce lists of the features they will be covering over the next quarter or year. Ideally, your PR machine will be checking these regularly and getting in touch with the right journalists well ahead of their deadlines to make sure your organisation is considered for contribution. If your target media do not produce these forward feature lists, then your PR team will be in regular contact with the journalists at these publications, finding out what they are working on and asking if they require comment, case studies or any other information.
Your organisation is probably good at something, and most likely, whatever that is, is your core business. You could surely get away with calling your MD an expert on the subject, which means that if you find an outlet that takes by-liners or guest posts (i.e. contributed articles written by someone who does not work for the blog or publication) then your PR team will be contacting the editors and bloggers, asking if they are interested in a piece by your MD on, for example, why the monarchy should be abolished, tips or how technology is the future of the accounting profession. These are very impressive to your audience and a great way to raise your profile (mainly because you have control over the content).
If you have a product launch, host an anniversary party, or entertain clients at a sporting event, your PR function will work hard to get your target journalists along as a further way of cementing those ever-important relationships. If the story is strong enough, they might hold an event, such as a press briefing, exclusively for the media.
My advice is that it is best to use events as opportunities for relationship building. Do not fall into the trap of trying to get a journalist to cover your event - there are very few magazines that are interested in articles about your Christmas party, your new website launch or your MD's birthday!
How can a journalist write about your product if they haven't tried it? It's unlikely they would bother, and it wouldn't be great practice as they would find it very difficult to produce accurate copy. The PR machine makes sure that all the relevant journalists have a sample to work from and have been briefed as to how to use it. They will follow up and check for any problems, as there's no better way to annoy a journalist than by providing them with a product that doesn't work (they are likely to review it either way, so your PR people will go to extra effort to make sure their experience is a good one).
The microblogging site is popular with the media, who use it as a networking and information resource. They frequently post tweets-for-help, and the best PR people are following them, ready to be first on the scene to respond with a great idea, a relevant spokesperson or a useful comment. Even better if you can get them to follow your own company's Twitter profile - if your tweets are not just self-promotion, then they will benefit and so will you, as you will have another avenue through which to keep the fires burning.
Facebook and LinkedIn also offer great opportunities to interact with journalists, but make sure this is targeted and appropriate as social media spam will have you blacklisted or defriended immediately.
Journalists are grateful when a company understands what constitutes news and provides just that, nicely packaged for them to use (remember that the converse is true as well: they get annoyed very easily when a company pushes something that is clearly not newsworthy - to them, this is pure spam). There are loads of ways to do this, but here are a few commonly used tactics:
I tell my clients that case studies are the most positive form of PR you can achieve. What better way to promote your company than through one of your clients singing its praises in a newspaper? Case studies are basically real-life examples of people or businesses who have dealt with issues or adversity. So if your product is a piece of software for accounting firms, a journalist would like to hear from one of your customers how the software has helped solve a business problem. Case studies should be identified in advance, interviewed, written up and kept on file for when the media asks.
The B2B PR Blog is a resource for both PR professionals and people working in B2B industries on how to devise and implement successful B2B PR campaigns. The blog is managed by b2b pr specialist Heather Baker, founder TopLine Comms, an inbound marketing and B2B content marketing agency and takes contribution from anyone sensible in the industry with something intelligent to say. Follow Heather on Twitter @TopLineFounder or contact her via email on email@example.com.
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